Bollenberg Experience, The - If Only Stones Could Speak


Year of Release: 2002
Label: Musea
Catalog Number: FGBG 4455
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:31:00

As many of you know, the Bollenberg of The Bollenberg Experience, is John "Bo Bo" Bollenberg, frequent contributor to these and other review pages. The challenge in reviewing a CD by someone you know is that if you give it glowing praise, readers suspect your objectivity. Pan it too much and readers think you're over compensating for the former. Striking the right balance, knowing as well that what you say ? positive or negative ? will be amplified by the artist him/herself (i.e., ego), only makes the challenge that much more treacherous. And so, with that in mind, I embark upon a review of the debut release If Only Stones Could Speak.

A concept album, Stones presents in song form various stories from Belgian history tied to various locations in Brugge, Bollenberg's home. What will draw in those who are not familiar with Bobo are his guests which include Rick Wakeman, Jordan Rudess, Roine Stolt, P?r Lindh, William Kopecky, and Heather Findlay among others. The title tells you the overarching theme ? if only stones could speak, what truths about the myths and legends of Brugge would they tell? The history behind each track is given in the liner notes, illustrated by accompanying photographs. The sleeve design was by the ubiquitous Mattias Nor?n and, as you might expect, he has done a great job.

Bobo is the main lead vocalist on the project, though Mostly Autumn's Heather Findlay and Brian Josh contribute guest vocals on a few of the tracks. Now here's where the challenging part comes into play. While I think Bobo is a good vocalist with an often pleasant and sonorous tone, some notes I find are flat and I would have liked to have heard a little more dynamics in the delivery. Overall, though, Bobo does a good job of it. Findlay has a sweet, lilting voice that fits well with the often old-world ? that is, medieval -- arrangements of the music.

The songs themselves were mainly written by both Bobo and Bj?rn Johansson, the former mainly writing the lyrics, the latter the music (though some are credited to Bobo only). In many cases, Johansson is credited with the arrangement. Two of the album's tracks, "Holy Blood" and "Ursus Brugghia" were arranged by P?r Lindh, who plays drums throughout (as well the expected keys) and along with Bernard Dewulf also produced the album. Bobo's long time friend Rick Wakeman has been an obvious influence on the music, most definitely in the dramatic aspects of the CD. That drama can be found in "Minna," which has a narrative singing style. It is a story with shades of Hamlet (Ophelia specifically) and Romeo And Juliet (paramours who cannot be together), though the details of the story are quite different. Another point of drama is in the dark, throbbing, and menacing piece "No Words," where King Wentzel IV implores Joannes Nepomucenus to reveal to him what his Queen was up to. Nepomucenus refuses to betray that confidence, and Wentzl has his tongue removed ? which we hear as a horrible scream at the end. Bobo does a good job of dramatizing Wentzl's frustration and resulting instability. Kopecky lays down a meaty bass line, and Wakeman's keys, while shrill at times, provide just the right amount of tension.

"Holy Blood" is energetic, sounding like something we might expect from Tempest or other similar Celtic-rock band (with touches of Jethro Tull) and features the keyboards of Rudess and Lindh at the forefront, that gives way only to a brief guitar solo from Stolt. The other instrument that remains prominent is the fat bass of Kopecky, giving the piece a bit of a funky rhythm. It is one of the best tracks on the album, featuring just the right amount of texture, variation and drama (of a different sort than mentioned above). "Caf? Vlissinghe" is another rocking piece where keys, guitar, and bass are heavily featured ? though from the start of it, you'd expect something very folksy and mellow with clavinet, medieval horns, bodhran. When drums and guitar kick in, followed soon after keys, that folksy feel gives way to a pulsating rock beat.

"Anna From The Well" is a lyrical, lilting pastoral piece that features both Johansson and Lindh on the mellotron, Dewulf on violin and Wakeman on organ. This is one of the nicer pieces on the album. "The Story Of Three" is perhaps the most epic, it's musical scope vast, bringing in flamenco guitar (Johansson) and castagnettes (Bollenberg) to suggest the protagonists time in Spain ? you can almost imagine a tango begin danced to this section.

The closing bonus track "The Goodnight Knight" is another mellow, sparse and acoustic based piece where main lead vocals are handled by Findlay with Bollenberg singing in support. This leavens the pastoral beginning with a darkly churning passage where Bollenberg's plaintive tones sing "goodnight" underneath a booming bass. Unlike elsewhere, Bollenberg's vocals are back in the mix.

If you didn't know that the folks playing here were folks of some reknown, you wouldn't necessarily guess it by listening. None bring out their "favourite licks" to redisplay them in a new context. In other words, they checked their egos at the door played to serve the music. All which gives this a solid band feel despite the disparate places those band members have come from ? both geographically and compositionally.

Overall, it is a good, if slightly lackluster, debut ? though with a little polishing on Bollenberg's vocals next time out will make everything shine a little more. A little tweaking here and there in the lyrical style department, too, and maybe a little tightening up of the arrangements ? do all that and The Bollenberg Experience will have an even stronger follow up.


Tracklisting:
If Only Stones Could Speak (6:38) / Holy Blood (7:13) / Minna (3:50) / Ursus Brugghia (3:39) / Caf? Vlissinghe (5:25) / No Words (6:06) / Anna From The Well (6:10) / The Story Of Three (8:50) / Bonus track: The Goodnight Knight (9:20)

Musicians:
John Bollenberg - vocals
Vanessa Defauw - mezzo soprano
Bernard Dewulf - violin, producer
Heather Findlay - vocals, bodhran, tin whistle
Bj?rn Johansson - acoustic guitar, electric guitar, flamenco guitar, birds, synth, percussion, mandolin, medieval horn, keyboards, chant, mellotron, arrangements
Bryan Josh - electric guitar, e-bow, vocals
William Kopecky - bass
P?r Lindh - drums, keyboards, Hammond L-100, piano, harpsichord, baroque trumpet, mellotron, clavinet, church organ, arrangements, producer
Jordan Rudess - Kurzweil 2500 XS, mini-Moog
Roine Stolt - Gibson electric guitar, 12-string acoustic, tambourine, acoustic guitars
Rick Wakeman - mini-Moog, strings, choir, synth, organ
M?rten Berglund - scream
Ensemble Macogall

Discography:
If Only Stones Could Speak (2002)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin BE

Added: February 23rd 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.thebollenbergexperience.com
Hits: 888
Language: english

  

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